Pakistan Apex Court declares trial of civilian in military courts as null and void

World Tuesday 24/October/2023 09:14 AM
Pakistan Apex Court declares trial of civilian in military courts as null and void

Islamabad: The five-member bench of the Pakistan Supreme Court unanimously declared civilians' trials in military courts null and void. The ruling came while hearing the petitions challenging the trial of civilians involved in the May 9 riots triggered by the arrest of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan in a corruption case, Geo News reported on Monday.

A bench headed by Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan and comprising Justices Munib Akhtar, Yahya Afridi, Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Ayesha Malik heard the petitions filed by the PTI chief and others on Monday.

Earlier today the court has reserved its verdict after Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan completed his arguments centred around the domain and scope of the military courts to try civilians under the Army Act.

According to the Pakistan-based media outlet, at the outset of the hearing today, petitioner lawyer Salman Akram Raja told the bench that trials of civilians had already commenced before the top court's verdict in the matter.

Responding to this, Justice Ahsan said the method of conducting proceedings of the case would be settled after Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan completed his arguments.

Presenting his arguments, the AGP said he would explain to the court why a constitutional amendment was necessary to form military courts in 2015 to try the terrorists, reported Geo News.

Responding to Justice Ahsan's query, AGP Awan said the accused who were tried in military courts were local as well as foreign nationals.

He said the accused would be tried under Section 2 (1) (D) of the Official Secrets Act and a trial under the Army Act would fulfill all the requirements of a criminal case.

"The trial of the May 9 accused will be held in line with the procedure of a criminal court," the AGP said.

The AGP said the 21st Amendment was passed because the terrorists did not fall in the ambit of the Army Act.

"Amendment was necessary for the trial of terrorists [then] why amendment not required for the civilians? At the time of the 21st constitutional amendment, did the accused attack the army or installations?" inquired Justice Ahsan, Geo News reported.

AGP Awan replied that the 21st Amendment included a provision to try accused involved in attacking restricted areas.

"How do civilians come under the ambit of the Army Act?" Justice Ahsan asked the AGP.

Justice Malik asked AGP Awan to explain what does Article 8 of the Constitution say. "According to Article 8, legislation against fundamental rights cannot be sustained," the AGP responded.

Justice Malik observed that the Army Act was enacted to establish discipline in the forces. "How can the law of discipline in the armed forces be applied to civilians?" she inquired.

The AGP responded by saying that discipline of the forces is an internal matter while obstructing armed forces from discharging duties is a separate issue.

He said any person facing the charges under the Army Act can be tried in military courts.

"The laws you [AGP] are referring to are related to army discipline," Justice Ahsan said.

Justice Malik inquired whether the provision of fundamental rights be left to the will of Parliament.

"The Constitution ensures the provision of fundamental rights at all costs," she added.

If the court opened this door then even a traffic signal violator will be deprived of his fundamental rights, Justice Malik said.

The AGP told the bench that court-martial is not an established court under Article 175 of the Constitution.

At which, Justice Ahsan said court martials are not under Article 175 but are courts established under the Constitution and Law.

After hearing the arguments, the bench reserved the verdict on the petitions.

A day earlier, the federal government informed the apex court that the military trials of civilians had already commenced.

After concluding the hearing, Justice Ahsan hinted at issuing a short order on the petitions.

The government told the court about the development related to trials in the military court in a miscellaneous application following orders of the top court on August 3, highlighting that at least 102 people were taken into custody due to their involvement in the attacks on military installations and establishments.